Advocacy: Power Mapping

Create a power map to identify allies and how to influence them


Decision makers and policymakers serve their constituents, and all constituents deserve to have their voices heard. Decision makers and their staff may not have time to keep up-to-date on the latest research in every field. This is where advocates can help fill in the gaps to share important information and context with decision makers.

Anyone can be an advocate. An advocate does not need to be paid for their work, or work full time in advocacy. Advocates can also work for non-profit groups, special interest groups, companies or industries and give voice to those they represent at the state or federal levels. Advocates study the latest research and meet with important stakeholders to determine policy needs and priorities. Advocates can express support for or opposition to legislation, or share insights about issues facing their community and potential solutions to addressing those issues. They can directly engage with decision makers and their staff in person or through letters, emails, petitions, the media, social media, or through other means. They can also suggest legislation to policymakers and even be co-authors on legislation.

Power mapping is a tool to identify relationships, networks, and pathways to connect with and influence the decision maker who has sway over your issue. The goal of power mapping is to learn about your target decision maker, examine important relationships, and identify strategic actions to take (Power mapping your way to success – Union of Concerned Scientists). Power mapping has a long history of being used not just for engaging legislators around specific policies, but also advocating for change within institutions and other areas of society (The Power of Mapping – Black Perspectives, African American Intellectual History Society).

The Process

  1. Identify the decision maker who has power over your issue or your “ask”
  2. Research what influences this decision maker
  3. Chart out relationships on a visual map, to help you identify key allies
  4. Craft your approach for engaging with the decision maker
  5. Determine opportune times to engage with the decision maker
  6. Prepare for challenges and opposition
  7. Strategically engage with the decision maker

The Exercise

Your role

For this job sim, you are an engaged scholar, graduate student, or policy fellow. Select an issue for which you would like to advocate. It can be related to your research, your institution, your local community, or any issue that you are passionate about.

Task 1: Identify your ask and your target decision maker.

First determine the concrete change you want to see—this could be a piece of legislation, increased funding for an existing program, an institutional policy, etc. Define where that change is made (e.g., in Congress, by the city council, by an academic committee). Consider who has the authority to make the change. This should be one person who has influence over the specific change you are seeking, such as your member of Congress, the mayor, the dean of student affairs, etc.

If you plan to contact a member of Congress, refer to this site to find your representative:

Task 2: Research what influences your target decision maker.

In addition to knowing where the decision maker stands on issues, and how they have voted on related bills or issues, it is important to be aware of the decision maker’s relationships and network. Answer these questions on who influences them professionally and personally: Who is on their staff? Which communities support them? Who are their financial and economic backers? Which educational and cultural institutions are they connected to?

Task 3: Examine relationships.

After researching their relationships and networks, plot the information visually on a map. Consider at least four areas of influence, including public, VIP, personal, and financial. View examples of power maps and select one to create for this job sim:

  • relationship circles or concept map
  • two factor or quadrant analysis
  • landscape analysis
  • spectrum of allyship

Looking at your map, determine who may be able to convince the decision maker to act. In which ways are you connected to stakeholders if any? If you are not connected to stakeholders, can you build relationships with them?

The Deliverable

There are tangible and intangible deliverables. The tangible product is a power map that informs your strategic plan and actions for advocacy. The intangible deliverables are the formation of a working relationship between you and the decision maker, their staff, and/or members of the community of influence.

As a next step, if you wish to share your power map connect with other advocates who are working on this issue to get feedback. This could include advocacy groups who are working on related issues or have engaged with your target decision maker.


General resources to help you get started:

Power mapping:

Skills Used to Perform This Task

  • Research and synthesis – ability to condense large volumes of information to the important and most relevant pieces.
  • Complex problem-solving – attention to long-term goals of advocacy, of legislator, and on-the-spot reasoning.
  • Knowledge of the legislative cycle and process – awareness of the best timing for advocacy depending on the time period.
  • Strategic decision-making – expertise in prioritizing which allies to engage with on this issue, and how to minimize opposition to your efforts. 
  • Developing your message – knowledge of ways to tailor your message and deliver it to the individual most likely to respond.

Skills Used in Policy and Advocacy

  • Relationship building with professionals
  • Engaging with diverse stakeholders
  • Research and delivery of quality, relevant information from reliable sources 
  • Clear and effective oral and written communication for non-scientific audiences
  • Writing policy documents
  • Problem solving, deductive reasoning, reflection
  • Leadership and teamwork with individuals from different backgrounds
  • Consensus building in a group towards a common goal

Additional Tasks in Policy and Advocacy Careers

  • Composing fact sheets
  • Synthesizing complex information
  • Lobbying
  • Developing a science policy and advocacy course
  • Organizing coalitions

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation authors – Thi Nguyen, PhD and Adriana Bankston, PhD CEO & Managing Publisher, Journal of Science Policy & Governance.

Simulation vetted and edited by Melissa Varga, MA in political management, Community and Partnerships Manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists.